Remembering Bell, Ziadie 25 years later
Two and a half decades ago, two promising young football coaches, Dennis Ziadie and Winthorpe 'Jackie' Bell, set off on an expedition to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico City.
Bell and Ziadie hoped to learn what they could in a bid to boost a then badly faltering national programme, with the hope of one day seeing the national team progress to the World Cup final, a dream eventually realised in 1998.
As fate would have it, tragedy struck and they would never return. The pair died in the line of duty, in a manner of speaking, when they were involved in a motor-vehicle accident on the way back to their hotel after watching a quarter-final match that pitted Brazil against France.
Anyone who knew both men knew that they were very dedicated to the sport. Nick Ziadie, son of Dennis, recalls that football was very important to his father as he coached for a number of years at the Manning Cup level for St George's College and Jamaica College.
He said: "My dad knew the game and he loved the game. He was very passionate about it. It was part of his life."
Ziadie (Dennis) also played for the local and legendary Santos Football Club in the 1970s and '80s and on the St George's College Old Boys' team, before going national.
Similarly, Bell played for the St George's College Old Boys' football team and later coached Santos while Ziadie was a player.
Clive 'Busy' Campbell, a fellow Santos player at the time, remembers meeting Bell for the first time. It was when Winston Chung-Fah, the coach at that time, brought Bell in to introduce him as their new coach on the night of a match against Boys' Town at the National Stadium. Santos ended up losing their title in the Division One final that night.
"Jackie said to us, "even though we lost, don't worry, we a go fi di big ting next year!" I remember that clearly that night," Campbell recalls.
The following year, the Santos team went to Haiti and played against their local Racing Club Haitien team and against the odds, won the match that day.
Campbell reminisced: "We were the first team to go there and beat Racing. We won the game and I couldn't believe it ... us, as a young team. I can recall how Jackie cried when we won that game against Haiti. And him lick him chest and seh, "see! we is big team, we is big team." And that's when I realised what he meant on the night we lost to Boys' Town in Jamaica. We were going for 'di big ting'."
Ziadie and Bell later became very good friends and shared a love for football, but had very different personalities. Ziadie would often be described as quiet and humble, especially because of his later conversion to Christianity; and Bell would be described as lively, jovial and loud, but sometimes very erratic.
"Jackie was kinda crazy if you ask me. He just went off easily," recalled Vaughn 'Bunny' Goodison, who captained the St George's College team while Ziadie and Bell played.
"We had a particular thing one night at the stadium. And, when you're not playing well, the guys would say, "telephone!" as if you had a phone call, which meant come off the field," joked Goodison.
The former captain, who was also one of Bell's closest friends, otherwise remembers him as a 'more-than-competent' and respected left-footer who played defence.
On the other hand, he said that Ziadie was an exceptionally skilled attacker.
"Dennis was faster, much faster and had better control and better touch. Jackie was a good defensive player; he took possession, covered well and had good foot speed in defence. But if I had to pick a player out of the two to make my 12, I'd go with Ziadie."
At the end of the Brazil vs France match during the finals in '86, Bell, Ziadie and Carl Chang, who now owns the sporting goods store Western Sports, were supposed to fly back to their hotel in another town. But upon arriving at the airport, they learned that all the flights were booked and decided to take a bus trip back.
Nick Ziadie remembers the story he heard when he was 17 years old.
"Apparently, there were only three seats left on the bus - two in the front and one in the back - and because Jackie and my dad were so close, (Chang) probably figured they wanted to talk about the game so he let the two of them sit together at the front."
When the accident happened, Ziadie was immediately thrown from the bus and died on impact. Bell was coherent, but badly injured and later succumbed to his injuries at a hospital.
Goodison also remembers the moment he heard about the accident.
"My friend, an old boy, called and told me but we said it must be a joke. We thought, "How could they end up in that kind of crash?" It's when Carl started calling and asked if we heard what happened to Jackie and Dennis it really hit me.
"We as Old Boys, we just couldn't deal with it, really. Because it was two of our best players from the association, it wasn't like it was a nobody. And it was very painful for me, because Jackie was my friend."
Under the organisation of Campbell, the boys all got together that year and played a football match in honour of their lost friends. And every year since, the Bell/Ziadie Memorial has grown to have public appeal with football fans coming to see the matches, which now include celebrities playing for charity. The charity dollars go towards helping children and schools in nearby areas.
Lorna Bell, widow of Jackie, thinks that the annual event carries on the legacy her former husband left behind as he was dedicated to service and helped the Santos players beyond football coaching.
"I know that this is the way he would have wanted to be remembered. You have to remember that football was his number-one love. Through his coaching, he loved helping people, especially from the inner city or the less fortunate."
Nick Ziadie has similar sentiments regarding his dad: "I think it's a great thing. My father had a great impact on football and that's how he'd love to be remembered. It's a great thing that 'Busy' is doing."